Westminster Report by Southend West MP Anna Firth.
LAST summer, we saw huge groups of teenagers in Southend and Leigh abusing nitrous oxide, which led to hundreds of complaints of anti-social behaviour and affected local businesses across our community.
Places like Old Leigh were inundated with youths abusing the drug, leaving behind thousands of cannisters.
Whilst many people think nitrous oxide is relatively harmless, perhaps deceived by the nickname ‘laughing gas’, it has lots of negative side effects, including memory loss and there have been cases where users have died of asphyxiation. Nitrous oxide use also leads to numerous knock-on effects for our communities, including littering and anti-social behaviour.
Clearly, this situation cannot be allowed to continue.
I have been fighting incredibly hard to tackle the use of nitrous oxide, brilliantly supported by our local police force. I have spent the past year calling for a ban on the sale of NOS to reduce its knock on effects, and allow Southend to be a cleaner and safer city for us all to enjoy.
I am therefore absolutely delighted that the Government has announced that it will ban nitrous oxide in the new Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan.
I have met with the local police since this was announced, and they are absolutely delighted that they will be getting the powers they need to keep us all safe, especially during the peak summer tourist season.
The Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan also sees 16 areas in England and Wales, including Essex, funded to support new ‘hotspot’ police and enforcement patrols in areas with the highest rates of anti-social behaviour.
This sort of policing worked brilliantly when it was first trialled in Southend as part of the fantastic Operation Union. We were the first place in the UK where this flexible type of policing was pioneered, with increased patrols on the seafront.
Operation Union was pro-active policing, where officers engaged with the public to try to make civilians feel as safe as possible. The police patrolled day and night, weekdays and weekends to ensure the people of Southend and Leigh are kept safe.
The stats show that when the police patrol on foot for 10-15 minutes, their presence is more effective than when they simply stop and drive through an area, hence leading to less anti-social behaviour.
I called on the Government to extend this scheme nationwide, including meeting with the Home Secretary to highlight our brilliant local success. I am therefore so pleased that the new Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan will include big elements from Operation Union.
I am also pleased to see other measures that will stop anti-social behaviour, which has sadly blighted our community, especially Old Leigh.
Offenders committing anti-social behaviour will be made to repair the damage they inflicted on victims and communities, with an ambition for them to start work as soon as 48 hours after their offence.
Under the new Action Plan, offenders will be made to wear high-vis vests or jumpsuits to pick up litter, remove graffiti and wash police cars as punishment.
Victims of anti-social behaviour from the local community will be given a say in offenders’ punishments, to ensure justice is visible and fits the crime. Stronger punishments will also be handed out to those who graffiti, litter or fly tip, with increased fines of up to £500 and £1,000.
All this will go a long way to making everyone who lives in our community, or comes to visit the beautiful place we are lucky enough to call home, safer.
However, I do think that that the Government could go further. Our local police are asking for increased powers for dispersal orders. Under current legislation, these can only last 48 hours, which means that Bank Holiday weekends are more difficult to police.
Given how many long weekends we have coming up, I will continue to lobby the Home Office to allow Temporary Dispersal Orders to be extended to 72 hours, which would help keep Southend and Leigh safer.
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